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Charlotte Rae (born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky; April 22, 1926) is an American character actress of stage, comedienne, singer and dancer, who in her six decades of television is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Edna Garrett in the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life (in which she starred from 1979 to 1986). She received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy in 1982. She also appeared in two Facts of Life television movies: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris in 1982 and The Facts of Life Reunion in 2001. She voiced the character of "Nanny" in 101 Dalmatians: The Series. She also appeared as Gammy Hart in Girl Meets World.
This Milwaukee native was born in 1926, where she was raised on a farm, with her two sisters (Beverly, Mimi), with Charlotte being the second of her three. Rae wanted to be a dramatic actress, but eventually wound up being a comedienne, all because of her stand-up comedy routines. After graduating from high school, she attended Northwestern University, where she met the unfamiliar actress Cloris Leachman, and would be best friends for life. She actually created the role of "Beverly" for Cloris to play on The Facts of Life (1979), all this was after Rae left the show. She dropped out of college and moved to New York City, and began a career as a stage actress, performing in such plays like: "Pickwick", when she was nominated in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and, in 1969, for Best Actress in a Play for "Morning, Noon and Night". All this was after she co-starred with Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis in Car 54, Where Are You? (1961). She would live there up until 1974, at the time she moved to Los Angeles, this eventually led her to become an actress. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role in the 1975 drama, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975). After guest-starring on numerous shows, including Norman Lear's All in the Family (1971) and Good Times (1974), Lear hired her old friend to co-star on Diff'rent Strokes (1978) as Gary Coleman's housekeeper, "Edna Garrett". Within a year, she gained popularity with her character, which eventually led her to having her own series, The Facts of Life (1979). Between Norman Lear and NBC gave her greenlight to star in her own show, which focused primarily on a houselady, residing in an all-girls school, which was the exact opposite of "Diff'rent Strokes". This series featured rookie actresses Kim Fields as resident gossip "Tootie" and Lisa Whelchel as rich spoiled brat "Blair Warner". Before then, she approached young Mindy Cohn at Westlake School in Los Angeles, California, and suggested that she take the role of smart "Natalie Green", a character that Charlotte created for her, which was named after one of her best friends from high school, which successful, she did and stayed on the show for 8 seasons. Rae left the show in 1986, despite all the fame she had gained, owing to a health problem, who later returned to the stage, displeasing the show's producers. In 1992, she was the voice of "Aunt Christine Figg" in Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992). She also appeared in "The Vagina Monologues" in New York. In 2000, she starred as "Berthe" in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Pippin". In 2007, she appeared in a cabaret show at the Plush Room in San Francisco for several performances. In the 2008 movie, You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008), Rae has a role as an older woman who has a fling with Adam Sandler's character. On February 18, 2009, she appeared in a small role as "Mrs. Ford" on the "I Heart Mom" episode. Towards the end of the new millennium, Rae attended the James Stewart Centennial Tribute at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, which was hosted by Robert Wagner. Among the attendees were Ann Rutherford, Shirley Jones, Cora Sue Collins, and Stewart's daughter, Kelly Stewart. Carroll Baker was also supposed to have attended the tribute, but if she did, she is nowhere to be found in the Academy's photos. Rae's older sister, Beverly, died from pancreatic cancer in 1998, her divorced husband of 35 years, John Strauss, had died, after a long battle of Parkinson's disease, in 2011. A pancreatic cancer survivor, around the same time after John's death, she continues to act while making guest appearances everywhere, especially TV Land, which her show, The Facts of Life (1979), won the award.
Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born on April 22, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Russian Jewish immigrants Esther (née Ottenstein), who was a childhood friend of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and Meyer Lubotsky, a retail tire business owner. She is one of three sisters, along with Miriam and the late Beverly (December 21, 1921 – June 2, 1998). She graduated from Shorewood High School in 1944. For the first ten years or so of her life, Rae's family lived in Milwaukee, then moved to Shorewood, Wisconsin. She did radio work and was with the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre. At 16, she was an apprentice with the Port Players, a professional theater company that came for the summer to Milwaukee, with several established actors such as Morton DaCosta, who would eventually direct The Music Man on Broadway. Rae attended Northwestern University, although she did not complete her studies, where she met Cloris Leachman, who many years later succeeded Rae on The Facts of Life for the show's last two seasons. At Northwestern she met several unknown stars and producers, including Agnes Nixon, Charlton Heston, Paul Lynde, Gerald Freedman, Claude Akins and songwriter Sheldon Harnick. When a radio personality told her that her last name wouldn't do, she dropped it, to her father's chagrin. She moved to New York City in 1948, where she performed in the theater and nightclubs. During her early years in New York, she worked at the Village Vanguard (alongside up-and-coming talents such as singer Richard Dyer-Bennet) and at the posh Blue Angel, home to budding talents Barbra Streisand, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. She moved to Los Angeles in 1974.
A stage actress since the 1950s, she appeared in Three Wishes for Jamie, The Threepenny Opera, Li'l Abner, and Pickwick. In 1955 she released her first (and only) solo album, Songs I Taught My Mother, which featured "silly, sinful, and satirical" songs by Sheldon Harnick, Vernon Duke, John La Touche, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and Marc Blitzstein (who reportedly wrote the song "Modest Maid" especially for Rae), among others. In 1954, Rae made her TV debut on an episode of Look Up and Live. This led to roles on other shows such as The United States Steel Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre, NBC Television Opera Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The DuPont Show of the Week, The Phil Silvers Show, Car 54, Where Are You?, Way Out, The Defenders, Temperatures Rising, The Love Boat, The Partridge Family, Love, American Style, McMillan & Wife, Barney Miller, 227, Murder, She Wrote, St. Elsewhere, Diagnosis: Murder, All in the Family and Good Times. In 1993, Rae voiced the character "Aunt Pristine Figg" in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. In 1973, Rae played the role of Southern Comfort in Terrence McNally's spoof Whiskey at Saint Clements' Theatre off-Broadway. She appeared in The Vagina Monologues off-Broadway. In 2000, she starred as Berthe in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Pippin. In 2007, she appeared in a cabaret show at the Plush Room in San Francisco for several performances. In the 2008 movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Rae has a role as an older woman who has a fling with Adam Sandler's character. On February 18, 2009 she appeared in a small role as Mrs. Ford on the "I Heart Mom" episode of Life.
She appeared in Ben Bagley's revue The Littlest Revue (and on its cast album) in 1956, appearing alongside Joel Grey and Tammy Grimes, among others, and singing songs by Sheldon Harnick ("The Shape of Things"), Vernon Duke ("Summer is a-Comin' In"), and Charles Strouse & Lee Adams ("Spring Doth Let Her Colours Fly"), a parody of opera singer Helen Traubel's Las Vegas night club act), among others. Rae would later record Rodgers & Hart Revisited with Dorothy Loudon, Cy Young, and Arthur Siegel, singing "Everybody Loves You (When You're Asleep)" and in several other duets and ensembles for Bagley's studio. Rae received two Tony Award nominations during her Broadway career. The first was in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Pickwick; the second came in 1969 for Best Actress in a Play for Morning, Noon and Night
Her first significant success was on the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? (1961–1963), in which she played Sylvia Schnauzer, the wife of Officer Leo Schnauzer (played by Al Lewis). She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role in the 1975 drama Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. In January 1975, Rae became a cast member on the ABC television comedy Hot L Baltimore, wherein she played Mrs. Bellotti, whose dysfunctional adult son Moose, who was never actually seen, lived at the "hot l" (the hotel was so bad the "E" on the sign never worked). Mrs. Bellotti, who was a bit odd herself, would visit Moose and then laugh about all the odd situations that Moose would get into with the others living at the hotel. Rae also appeared in early seasons of Sesame Street as Molly the Mail Lady.
Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life
In 1978, NBC was losing to both CBS and ABC in sitcom ratings, and Fred Silverman, future producer and former head of CBS, ABC, and NBC, insisted that Norman Lear produce Diff'rent Strokes. Knowing that Rae was one of Lear's favorite actresses, he hired her immediately for the role of housekeeper Edna Garrett, and she co-starred with Conrad Bain in all 24 episodes of the first season. Her character proved to be so popular that producers decided to do an episode that could lead to a spinoff. That episode (called "The Girls School") was about girls attending a fictional school called Eastland. In July 1979, Rae proposed the idea for the spinoff. NBC approved the show, to be called The Facts of Life, which would portray a housemother in a prestigious private school and dealt with such issues facing teenagers as weight issues, depression, drugs, alcohol, and dating. After working as a character actress/comedienne in supporting roles or in guest shots on television series and specials, The Facts Of Life gave Rae not only her best-known role but it finally made her a television star. The role of Edna Garrett was the unifying center of attention of the program as well as a warm, motherly figure for the girls. Rae's role was very similar to that of Kate Bradley on the 1960s CBS-TV series Petticoat Junction, which also gave radio and television actress Bea Benaderet late stardom. The Facts of Life had marginal ratings at first but after a major restructuring and time change, the show became a ratings winner between 1980 and 1986. Midway throughout both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, she missed several episodes because she was planning on leaving the show, and the story lines focused more on the other characters. At the beginning of the eighth season, Rae left the show and Cloris Leachman was then brought in as Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, for the show's last two years. The part of Beverly was quite similar to Leachman's character of Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis from the 1970s. Unfortunately, the character of Beverly was not as popular with viewers as Mrs. Garrett had been. Nevertheless, Leachman remained with the show until it was canceled in 1988. In 2001, Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields were reunited in a TV movie, The Facts of Life Reunion. In 2007, the entire cast was invited to attend the TV Land Awards where several members of the cast, including Rae, sang the show's theme song. On April 19, 2011, the entire cast was reunited again to attend the TV Land Awards, where the show was nominated and won the award for Pop Culture Icon. The same day, Nancy McKeon and Kim Fields (who played Jo & Tootie, respectively) also gave a speech in honor of her 85th birthday. The cast did likewise on ABC's Good Morning America, where at the end of the segment, reporter, Cynthia McFadden wished Rae a happy birthday, and the cast sang the show's theme song.
She married composer John Strauss on November 4, 1951. In the mid 1970s he came out as gay and the couple divorced in 1976. Strauss died in 2011 at age 90 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease. The couple had two sons, Larry and Andrew.
In 1982, Rae had a pacemaker implanted in her heart. In 2009, due to the frequency of pancreatic cancer in her own family, Rae was screened and diagnosed early. Her mother, an uncle, and her elder sister Beverly all reportedly died of the disease. Rae is cancer-free and in remission as of 2015.
- She knew Jeffrey Hunter through their work in local theater as teenagers.
- She attended Northwestern University (Evanston, IL).
- Charlotte divorced her husband, composer John Strauss, before starting Diff'rent Strokes (1978).
- Her oldest son, Larry, is a South Central Los Angeles school teacher.
- She starred in "Pippin" at the New Jersey Paper Mill Playhouse.
- She created the role of Mammy Yokum in the Broadway musical "Lil' Abner".
He middle daughter of three musical girls. Older sister Beverly, an opera singer, died of cancer a few years ago. Younger sister Mimi is a musician and composer.
- She discovered young Mindy Cohn for The Facts of Life (1979) show while Rae and the TV show were at an all-girls school preparing for research and casting. Rae was instrumental in getting young student Cohn cast.
- She was a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority.
- She was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award: in 1966, as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) for "Pickwick" (based on the Charles Dickens work), and in 1969, as Best Actress (Dramatic) for "Morning, Noon, and Night".
- Her classmates at Northwestern University included Cloris Leachman, Paul Lynde, Charlton Heston, Martha Hyer, Patricia Neal and Agnes Nixon. Because they were seated alphabetically and her last name was Lubotsky, she & Lynde were seated next to each other.
- Left The Facts of Life (1979), at the beginning of the eighth season, because she felt her character was repeating herself. After she tried to reduced her role, the producers and NBC were against her decision of her departure, so she was being replaced by Cloris Leachman, who stayed on the show until the show's cancellation in 1988.
- Her sister, Beverly Ann, died in 1998.
- She is best known by the public for her starring role as Edna Garrett on Diff'rent Strokes (1978) and it's spin-off show The Facts of Life (1979).
- She has three grandchildren.
- She created the Natalie Green character for her future The Facts of Life (1979) co-star, Mindy Cohn, named after one of Charlotte's best friends, back in high school.
- Her parents are Esther Ottenstein, who was a childhood friend of Golda Meir, and Meyer Lubotsky, a retail tire business owner.
- She was forced to drop Lubotsky, because a radio personality told Charlotte that her last name wouldn't cut it.
- She used to be a heavy smoker for years.
- She created the Beverly Ann Stickle character for her future The Facts of Life (1979) co-star, Cloris Leachman, named after one of Charlotte's real-life sisters.
- She is friends with Shirley Jones, Bea Arthur, Doris Roberts, Angela Lansbury, Florence Henderson, Betty White, Marla Gibbs, Della Reese, Gavin MacLeod, Norman Lear, Jean Stapleton, June Lockhart, Norman Lloyd, Joan Rivers, Carol Channing, Paul Lynde, Woody Allen, Teresa Brewer, Cloris Leachman, Dave Madden, Roddy McDowall, Anne Jeffreys, James Cromwell, Alex Rocco, Gary Coleman, William Schallert, Mary Jo Catlett, Charlene Tilton, Peter Marshall, Karen Grassle, Mickey Rooney, Beverly Garland, Robert Wagner, Charles Nelson Reilly and Conrad Bain.
- Each summer, while she was in college, she also appeared in summer stock.
- One of her sons is autistic.
- She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease that ran in her family. All of her relatives had passed away, with the exception of Rae, who became cancer-free in 2011.
- Before she was a successful actress, she used to work at nearly every nightclub for unfamiliar singers in New York City.
- Before she was an actress, she was also a singer.
- She graduated from Shorewood High School in the village of Shorewood, Wisconsin, in Milwaukee County, in 1944.
- She is one of Russian-Jewish immigrants.
- She remained good friends with Mindy Cohn and Kim Fields, during and after The Facts of Life (1979).
- She got the role of Edna Garrett on Diff'rent Strokes (1978), because Norman Lear had been friends with her years before. This led her to starring in The Facts of Life (1979), the year later, which she stayed on the show from 1979 to 1986.
- Her ex-husband John Strauss served as musical composer of Car 54, Where Are You? (1961), in which she co-starred.
- At 16, she was an apprentice with the Port Players, a professional theater company that came for the summer to Milwaukee, with several established actors.
- She had an ongoing feud with Joan Collins.
- She composed The Facts of Life (1979)'s 1st season theme song.
- She met Norman Lear on an episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950).
- Her family moved to the village of Shorewood, Wisconsin, in Milwaukee County, in 1936.
- She had attended the James Stewart Centennial Tribute at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, which was hosted by Robert Wagner. Among the attendees are: Shirley Jones, Ann Rutherford, Cora Sue Collins and Stewart's daughter, Kelly Stewart. [12 June 2008].
- Edna Garrett, her character on The Facts of Life (1979) was born on a farm in Wisconsin, the same as herself in real-life.
Created the Andy Moffett character for her The Facts of Life (1979) co-star, Mackenzie Astin, due to the fact that her real-life son, Andrew, is autistic.
- When she was a little girl, she acted with the Wauwatosa Children's Theatre and performed on the radio.
- When she was told to drop her last name, Lubotsky, her father was mildly insulted.
- She had missed numerous episodes of The Facts of Life (1979), midway through the sixth and seventh seasons, due to her serious health problems.
- She was the narrator and singer for the children's books series, Wally Kola. Her sister Mimi Guten, wrote the music for the book written by Mimi's long time music partner Toni Mazzola.
- Her character on The Facts of Life (1979) was a Democrat, so is Rae, in real-life.
- She enjoys golfing, dancing, dining, collecting photo albums, spending time with her family, listening to opera, taking care of people (especially her son) with disabilities, singing and sewing.
- She used to be a spokesperson for Mr. Muscle oven cleaner and Charmin toilet paper in the 1970s.
- After she lost her older sister, Beverly, she was asked to move back to her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she shared her family's story at a local awareness program.
- At one point, she wanted to be a dramatic actress, when eventually, she ended up being a comedienne, all because of her stand-up comedy routines.
- Musical show business ran in her family.
- She made her Broadway debut in "Three Wishes for Jamie," opposite Leigh Allen and Anne Jeffreys.
- After her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, she joined the Pan Can Action Network and Aurora Healthcare to encourage people that pancreatic cancer risk factors and in-particular the importance of detailed testing for those with a family history of pancreatic cancer.
- She celebrated her 85th birthday in 2011, with the rest of her The Facts of Life (1979) cast at the TV Land Awards. On that day, both of her former co-stars, Nancy McKeon and Kim Fields, gave speeches respectively, in honor of her birthday.
- Before she celebrated her 84th birthday in 2010, her cyst had grown by the day of her surgery. Afterwards, she completed her last chemotherapy treatment.
- After her long stage career, she moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1974, to become an actress.
- Prior to her cancer diagnosis, her son, Larry Strauss met with her doctor at UCLA. After auditioning him, it was concluded that he was the one to perform surgery, where the tail of my pancreas was removed. [14 August 2009].
- Her sister, Mimi, lives in Dallas, Texas.
- She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early, because she was screened for it. She was the only one in her family to have a successful surgery.
- She met Bea Arthur in a revival of the play, "Bertolt Brecht," where they began a lifelong friendship until Bea's death in 2009.
- She is a fan of both shows: Law & Order (1990) and Masterpiece Classic (1971).
- She attended the 90th birthday party of longtime friend Carol Channing, on 21 February 2011.
- She is the acting mentor and friend of Mindy Cohn.
- She attended the 40th Anniversary Reunion of The Waltons (1971).
- She did not complete her studies in college.
- She released her only album in 1955 that was reissued in 2006, called "Songs I Taught My Mother.".
- With the death of Conrad Bain in 2013, Rae and Todd Bridges are the only two surviving stars of Diff'rent Strokes (1978).
- She began her show The Facts of Life (1979) at age 53.
- She lived in New York City from 1948 to 1974.
- She attended the funeral of her lifelong friend and old classmate Paul Lynde, when the actor/comedian passed away in 1982. Rae also guest-starred with Lynde on both shows: The Paul Lynde Show (1972) and The Hollywood Squares (1965).
- She met Shirley Jones on an episode of The Partridge Family (1970). The two began a lifelong friendship.
- She met future husband, John Strauss, when Rae was recording an album called, 'Songs I Taught My Mother.' At the time, Strauss, served as musical director on the project, managing the band worked on the recording and arranging the music.
A singing and dancing enthusiast.
- She had guest-starred and starred on a few of Norman Lear's shows, before she was cast on Diff'rent Strokes (1978) and The Facts of Life (1979).
- Longtime friend and classmate of Cloris Leachman.
- Before she was a successful actress, she used to work in radio and in television in Chicago.
- She had referred to Conrad Bain as her big brother.
- She was inspired by Gloria Steinem.
- Her favorite sitcom was All in the Family (1971), which featured both Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton.
- Every year, Rae contributes to the Saban Clinic in Los Angeles, California, where she was discovered by Bernie and Mimi West. The clinic was open in 1967, at the time, it was called the Los Angeles Free Clinic, and in 2008, both Haim Saban and Cheryl Saban donated $10 million dollars, which it was named in honor.
- She is a longtime friend of the late Charles Nelson Reilly. They both guest-starred on a 2-part episode of The Love Boat (1977).
Neighbor of Dick Woelfle.
- She attended the 75th Anniversary of the Waa-Mu Show at Northwestern University .
- She met Norman Lloyd in the Broadway play, 'Golden Apple.' Rae guest-starred on St. Elsewhere (1982) opposite him.
- She played the same character (Edna Garrett) on three different series: Diff'rent Strokes (1978), The Facts of Life (1979) and Hello, Larry (1979).
- On her 87th birthday, Marilyn Maye sang a birthday song to her.
- She was a spokesperson for the public service message, Helen Keller International, in 1987.
After Vanguard Records went out of business, she tracked down the recording rights of the company, and in the 1970s, Rae brought back the album, for $5,000.
- She had commuted from New York to Los Angeles every Friday, to tape Car 54, Where Are You? (1961).
- Her favorite dramatic role is: Miss Daisy, in 'Driving Miss Daisy.'.
- She college classmate and longtime friend of Sheldon Harnick.
- John La Touche was said to be a fan of hers. Before Rae would sing, he used to write opera songs with her ex-husband, John Strauss.
- She appeared in the annual student theater extravaganza, 'The Waa-Mu Show.'.
- She had attended the 100th Birthday of her lifelong friend Norman Lloyd, on 9 November 2014, in Los Angeles, California.
- Like Norman Lloyd, Dick Van Dyke, Ernest Borgnine, Mickey Rooney, Betty White, Angela Lansbury, Marla Gibbs, Larry Hagman, and Shirley Jones, Rae is one of the stars in Hollywood never to retire.
- Her popularity on Diff'rent Strokes (1978) led her to doing a sequel The Facts of Life (1979), playing the lead character of Edna Garrett.